How We’re Covering AI at Indoor Ag-Con

At Indoor Ag-Con Asia in Singapore last month, Ken Tran, Principal Scientist in Microsoft Research AI group, shared his vision for using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in indoor agriculture. Microsoft has been interested in data use in the agriculture sector for a while, for instance, it started Project Farmbeats in 2015 which give farmers access to Microsoft Cloud and AI technologies, the goal being to enable data-driven decisions and improve agricultural yield. Ken’s presentation looked at a range of technologies that could potentially be applied to agriculture, such as, utilizing black box optimization to select a farm’s location, crop choices and farm layout.

April Agee Carroll of AeroFarms at Indoor Ag-Con Philly in October 2017

One of the themes that was clear throughout his presentation was that a successful ML or AI program requires data, lots and lots of data. The bulk of commercial large scale vertical farms have been around for fewer than 5 years, and most have instituted their own AI programs, viewing it as a way to improve crop yield and farm economics and to bolster long term competitive advantage. April Agee Carroll, Vice President of Research and Development at AeroFarms, echoed this sentiment while discussing AeroFarms’ AI program at Indoor Ag-Con Philly last fall, for example. By definition, it will take a while to capture sufficient data to make the kind of reliable predictions that enable better crop yields, or spot disease outbreaks at an early stage.

Yet, there are other repositories of data in the industry, not least of which are at the established controls companies that have interacted with greenhouse, warehouse and container farm growers over generations in some cases. Dutch controls major, Priva, for instance, has been in business since 1959 and introduced its first “climate computer for the horticulture industry” in 1977. Consequently, they have a great perspective on how their grower customers wish their data to be used, and on what can realistically be achieved with it. That’s why we decided to ask senior executives from three controls majors – the GM of Argus Controls and CEOs of Autogrow and Priva – to address how they’ll be using AI in their operations in our session entitled “How is AI and Machine Learning Impacting Control Systems?” at our upcoming Indoor Ag-Con in Las Vegas on May 2-3, 2018.

This isn’t to say that we’ll be ignoring the myriad startups that are using AI and ML to find better answers in the entire food supply chain, look out for some new speaker announcements in that category in the coming weeks!

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